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The 7 Most Bizarre Kenyan Traditions and Rituals

17 Feb

Okay, you can say it…bad blogger, baad baad blogger, need to be punished, yes? (Engages pseudo-masochist personality)

Anyway, I am sure you know that each country struggles to market its tribes and their traditions without putting the word bizarre after such events. Its hard, however, not to scream BIZARRE! WEIRD! WTF!  When you realize how many of these bizarre traditions there are all around us, some have gone with the wind, while others are done in the dark….and for some unknown reason, they mostly involve nudity (did someone say nudity is UnAfrican, refer to encyclopedia, clothes are unafrican *Getting in touch with his African roots, the writer might or might have not written this article in the nude, or in a loin cloth* TMI?)

VII.  FGM

   Yes, the big abbreviated FGM starts off the list. It means Female Genital Mutilation which actually just means cutting off a woman’s genitalia (That’s your cue to start with the cringing). It is an open secret that the fear of all men is having their genitalia (not the power generating company of Italy  by the way, the real anatomical ones that hang in the lower torso) chopped off. It is considered the worst form of insult to manhood, and it’s just plain scary *cringes*. FGM is no different and if you read through the numerous cultural defenses for the practice, you realize that the cultures did not appreciate that the woman’s vagina (now that we are on the topic) was created or evolved (depending on which book you subscribe to) for a reason.

 Follow this link at your own peril, it has the kind of graphic images that will haunt you for the next several years worth of sexual experience (That and there’s repeated mentions of a campaign dubbed ‘Vulvas with a difference’)

   Now, turns out FGM was first banned in Kenya in 1983, and if you can put two and two together, this was the year after the coup attempt. If you followed that link, then you read that President Moi was challenged by a group of elders on the matter and when he visited the district, he ignored the matter completely. Why, you might ask. Here was a man who had just survived a coup attempt, transported to safety in a military tank (legend has it, but I suspect it was a ROTO tank) and who now wielded the most powerful power (for emphasis) of all, fear. He banned the age-old practice and could not respond to a challenge by a group of elders? Yes, because FGM remains a controversial topic amongst many Kenyan communities…

   I appreciate the female form and feel that most straight men do not recognize that FGM affects them too. Actually, there are documented cases of the fact that a smaller vagina, the result of this archaic practice, causes a man physical pain (refer back to earlier paragraphs about genitalia) and makes sex a painful experience instead of a sensual one.

No Caption

   So, why do communities still carry on with this tradition? Well, turns out that a ‘circumcised’ girl has more bridal price market value. It, supposedly, also prepares the girl for responsible married life (supposedly, uncircumcised girls are immoral and rude, so much for personality). With almost thirty years of fighting this scourge, little progress has been made because most opponents of the practice miss the point, it is actually not about the practice itself, but what it symbolizes and the lessons one is taught. The more effective strategy which is gaining prominence is offering the communities an alternative to female circumcision and even then, not a collective one but one that applies to each community.

Its okay to increase the cringing now...

…oooh yuh, did I forget to mention that the original meaning of manyanga in sheng was for uncircumcised girls and was encouraged by activists to discourage practice. Circumcised girls were called mitumba…*ahem*

VI. Male Circumcision

  This is nothing bizarre about this rite of passage unless you have grown up in a modern world where bizarre has a new meaning. The word circumcision in itself always denotes cutting off the foreskin, while initiation would be a more general term if one was speaking of the collective rite of passage (Wait, did I just go all Philip Ochieng’ on you?)

  Well, every August, the Bukusu sub-tribe of the Luhya community features in various local and international media with their very cringe-worthy circumcision ceremony. While it is not the only community that still follows the traditional ways when initiating its young boys, it is the only one that receives considerable media attention.

A crowd puller, if you will...

  The story is the same every year (It was initially held every two years but I guess the population boom has adjusted traditions), the initiates are woken up at three in the morning and herded to the river. They must then strip and stay in the water until their bodies are numb and apply mud all over their bodies. The mud has three main functions: To prevent, get this, excessive bleeding, from the cut, To prevent the candidate from wincing or blinking (Since dried mud, much like facial mask, turns one into a mummy) and, as all good traditions go, to commemorate the heroics of Mango. Hold that thought…

   Okay, I just wanted you to wonder what the Bukusu traditions have to do with Mango the Fruit. I wondered the same thing too until I found out that Mango is a hero of the Luhya, a man who smeared his whole body with mud to rid himself of his very human odour as he went on to kill Omieri’s ancestor, a monstrous serpent that had the Bukusu people praying for years. That plus the author of this article curiously mentions Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Predator—popular culture in a tradition, talk about influence.

   If you did follow that link then you must have seen the image of the candidate looking at the sky as a circumciser does his thing (get the pun?). if you look at the background you will notice that the sun is up, an indication that the completely numbing effect of the water might be slowly subsiding.

Must not pee, must not pee...

   Also, I do not want to speculate what the whitish looking stuff at the candidate’s feet is, but you know what am thinking (The perv! Wanker plus pseudo-masochist?)

   According to five Bukusu rites, a complete ritual must have kamalwa, short form for lots of booze, bling bling (the candidate must wear a bull’s brisket), disco (commonly known as likhoni and then when the DJ deems it fit, khuminya-the ultimate circumcision dance), nude dipping (sadly, no women are allowed close to the river) and sikhebo. The last rite is where the entire village gathers around as you stand with your feet firmly planted on the ground, eyes facing the sky, the east to be precise and arms resting on the sides. The white stuff, by the way, is just white flour…you can relax, this is not a porn story.

    Did I mention that, as in many other African cultures, those who have previously undergone the ritual are allowed to bully the candidate as a way of ‘hardening’ him? Yes, look at the knife-looking blades this guy uses..

Does this guy have an extensive CV or what! I wonder why the different sizes...

  The last paragraph of the right column of this article suggests that Mango, the man we previously talked about, was the guy who brought the practice to the Bukusu from the Sabaot because of…..you already know this story, his love for a woman (the female species continues to constantly prove that they hold the ultimate power)

  The worst thing a candidate could or can do is to flinch, wince, cringe or commit the ultimate form of cowardice, run. He would become the laughing stock of the village and no girl would ever want to marry him (no matter how blessed he is dong-wise) because no one wants a coward, yes? Therefore, it is expected that for the 2 to five minutes it takes the professional circumciser and his helper to cut off your foreskin, you have to think happy thoughts and pray that none of your muscles decides to jerk unexpectedly (Muscle spasms, it turns out, are a new thing). You can’t even blink which means that the Luhya have evolved eye muscles because the average person struggles to stay a minute without blinking (Try it, I’ll wait).

This guy can, it must be the mud...

That, or we are all sissies who cannot keep our eyes open for up to five minutes when facing the east in the morning which, simple logic will tell you, means the sun is shining on your eyes, making it even harder to book a wife.

Plus, I doubt peeing on the circumciser is allowed…

V. Wife Beating

Hold on to your knickers and weaves feminists, I am going all out on this one.

  First, the jokes about Nyeri men getting beaten by their husbands, sorry, wives, are not funny! Hehehe…ahem, yes, seriously, they are really beat! The jokes that is…

   I know many people will rush to give the demerits of spousal abuse and why it is generally fading away in the Kenyan society. In days past it was believed that “A man who loves his wife beats her”, in other cases, one was beaten only if they were ‘disobedient’ (Is it just me or does this sound masochist?).

Pictured: A defenceless house plant...ooh, yuh, and a guy slapping his wife..

  The Kikuyu perspective on this issue has been researched extensively, an interesting thing if you have followed recent news on the Nyeri abuse cases. It probably means that the largest tribe in Kenya was initially made up of people who believed that beating was…urrrmmm, a sign of love (forget flowers ladies, this is where erotic punishments begun). A study carried out by the Ministry of Health found that wife beating is accepted and expected by a majority of women. Supposedly, two out of every three women think that the wife should be beaten if she has been ‘disobedient’…again, freaks?

  If you read this chauvinistic blog post (yes, even I admit it is a tad bit too much), you will learn that there are two kinds of beating; ‘heavy’ and ‘harmless’ and that it is ‘heavy’ battering that should be condemned…You can feel the chauvinism too, right? Well, after sometime you realize the post was actually written by a woman! She says “I have myself been slapped several times by my husband for some stupid mistakes I did but I never took these slaps as beatings” and that if a man does not occasionally slap his wife he is ‘…incomplete…”. Supposedly, and I do not know the truth of this claim, “The act of slapping relieves the man of temper and gets the load off his chest”. Has this woman never heard of beer? Jogging? Counseling? …and a man who has a load on his chest should probably see a doctor, no? She repeatedly calls men ‘animals’ but not as an insult… She also appeals to the fact that since apes do it, we should too (ever heard of ‘higher beings’?)

...because 'I've been a very very bad girl?"

  More proof that this woman, like many others who support spousal abuse, are mistaking their own pseudo masochism for customs is “When I know am wrong, I sometimes invite my husband to slap me on the buttocks to avoid a long argument that could mess up his mood in the evening and it works like magic. The poor guy normally feels relieved and it happens very quickly. I then bring him some warm tea and that night, I get my thing” Now, all you porn directors have your pen’s out for this one, the spanking and the lady going on to say she gets her thing…She calls herself the ‘Kenyan Madona’ with a single ‘n’ to distinguish herself from the other Madonnas…and she lives in Sweden and would not mind a spanking tonight…

Not pictured, the Kenyan Madona

So, now that we know where bondage porn begun…

IV. Wife Inheritance

Dhako chogo morudore gik libamba jok modong’to gweno.

More proof that the people who made customs liked to mess with women…

If you can read or speak Dholuo then you know what the proverb above means. It’s simply translates to

A woman is the middle bone that the clan chews after her husband’s death.”

Do you get how graphic that is? Not only does it have cannibalistic connotations to it, it still manages to do so with a sexual element, not sexist, sexual.

It is the proverb upon which wife inheritance is built, the idea that women are clan property and must therefore ‘…every clan member can force them to sexual intercourse.”

  If you think this culture is fading away fast, think again because it is integrated in the very semantics of Dholuo. For example, people usually do not ask “Who is she?” but “To Whom does she belong?”

Death machine

   Obviously, HIV/AIDs has dealt this particular tradition a near-deathblow. Modern men have a shorter lifespan than their wives because of improved maternity healthcare and because men like to test the strength of their balls all too often. Most times, there is more to it than meets the eye, mostly a ploy by the inheritor to cheat the widow off her land and inheritance. If one is headstrong then the clan can threaten to kill you and eat you, sorry, take your land.

…and did I mention that one of the most valid reasons for seeking divorce among the Luo ancestors was to say Kore Kech (Her Chest is bitter). This research claims “This is an accepted explanation for infant mortality and a reason why a husband is allowed to divorce his wife since he too is at risk of being killed” Did you get what that last part implies? Let me tell it to you like a child of five, the husband is at risk of being because he too partakes of the chest/milk/boob/breast/mammaries/jug/bust…you get the idea.

The husband, right before he fell and died...

III. Wife Abduction

‘Mhanyo’ in the years past was very different from what we have now. There was no Facebook, no twitter, no WhatsApp, the closest people came to it was passing by the girl’s home and whistling a previously determined tune as a sign that she should take her leave. One had to pray though, that the girl’s father had not used the same whistling move with his wives and might recognize it as a sign that you were seeking to deflower his daughter.

Enter the Kisii…

    If you research on Wife abduction, you will get the idea that it is unique to parts of Rwanda and West Africa that have men strong enough to hold down a wailing and screaming girl (Considered a standard practice at the time, no cause for alarm, just a girl getting married). It was very ‘simple’ strategy; the guy waylaid his target as she went to the river with the pot on her head. He would at most times be flanked by his boys, taking brohood to a whole new level. Once they had the screaming, wailing girl on their shoulders, with the broken pot the only evidence that her now-Sherlock Homes father had to go on, the abductor carried her home and raped her as an attempt to get her pregnant. Pregnancy represented the only known way to coerce her into marriage because, it turns out, a simple YES/NO answer is a recent phenomenon. It existed as a result of the rising bride price (sound familiar?) and no one was allowed by custom to intervene if they witnessed such an act so your girls could technically go on to fetch water as you were carried to some guys home, your ‘market value’ decreasing with every step he took towards the homestead. The ban against intervention stretched even to the ‘boyfriend’ which means that every time your girlfriend goes to shags, you should be a very worried man. Pray, that she does not end up like this woman.

Courtship

The Turkana had their own version of it known as the akoman which amounts to a greedy form insider trading and manipulation of bridal price ‘market forces’. This is because a would-be bride was kidnapped before any formal negotiations. It, get this “raised the abductor’s reputation in his community, and allowed him to negotiate a lower bride price with his wife’s family.” A successfully kidnapped bride attracted a lower bride price as the article goes on to say “Should an attempted abductor fail to seize his bride, he was bound to pay a bride price to the woman’s family, provide additional gifts and payments to the family, and to have an arranged marriage (akota)”

Hey wifey, wake up and clean the space ship, prepare some Marslunch while you are at it...

I would strongly advise against trying this with that hot girl who gives you the heebie jeebies because her father will most likely kill you instead of trying to get a lower bride price, probably a ProBox. That, plus the Kenya Police and NEMA (because of the noise pollution as she screams beyond thirty yards) might not take it kindly.

II.  Wife Swapping

  You know how you go to your friends house for the night and you cannot find any sleep despite the fact that he has fixed you up with the best bed with clean sheets and a duvet (mgeni siku ya kwanza)? How you can’t ignore the stubborn mosquito that keeps buzzing on above your ear and makes you slap yourself several times as you try to swat it? How you find the next morning all weird because you don’t know the protocol and you don’t want to wake up too early or too late? How it is all weird if Wife Swap is on TV and it is all awkward because a small part of your demented brain has always thought your friend’s wife was hot?

LETS!

   Well, turns out our ancestors had recognized this as an innate human need, the need to bang someone’s wife as a sign of hospitality. No, it was not like you requested your friend for threesome or anything, it was actually considered good manners (and expected of your host) to ask one of his wives (because they were pimps of course) to come to your thingira/hut and urmmmm…make you feel at home?

  To their credit, this was long before HIV/AIDs, most STIs and before the whole hullabaloo of monogamy and of course, the Bro Code. However, much like those annoying visitors who block your loo and don’t even have the courtesy to let you know, some people, and I suspect many, did abuse the ‘hospitality’. Actually, it was this form of exploitation of a good hospitality that gave us one of Kenya’s most badass women, the venerable Wangu Wa Makeri, one of Kenya’s badass women. Any image or caricature that exists suggests that she was not exactly the African supermodel, a point which most likely implies that Makeri (because she, FYI feminists, was actually married) offered her to the Great Chief because she was not exactly hot. It is an implied law amongst men, one that applies even to passing your friend the warmer beer…if you catch my drift.

The raised hut in the middle is not where they kept the condoms, its the granary...

  So, the man with over 60 wives started visiting a lot, and we all know that there is nothing as annoying as being visited by the most important man on that side of the mountain. It helped the communities maintain good relations with each other, proving once and for all that most wars could have been avoided if Churchill had allowed Hitler to know his wife (get it, know?)

   One was expected to show similar hospitality if the current host visited, and they frequently did and you could deny them the chance. I don’t even want to know the weird conversation and looks when the host started yawning at dinner, the accepted sign of fatigue and urmmm….ask-your-wife-to-come-to-bed-after-five-minutes look. It did not end with colonialism, as one would expect, actually British colonialists adopted the practice, making our ancestors influential elements of contemporary culture…and Wife Swap.

Certainly not soundproof...

   It most likely ended with the end of hospitable visits and the forced migration to concentration camps where the distance between husband and wife was too close for comfort. I am speculating here but I think it would be easier in a monogamist society but it turns out, generosity with the wife ended…Taking into account that the only motor vehicles available at the time belonged to the colonial government and its minions, anyone walking from, say, Murang’a to Narok could have a lot of ‘friend’s wife’ tail along the way. It was sort of a sampling mission and the best part is, he could use the same route with the same stopovers on the way back and not fear his host would hide his wife at the back of the fridge (we all do it once in a while, that last beer, that last can soda, that last piece of pizza, that gorgeous teenage daughter)

Wife swap is actually African huh, makes you wonder whether there was group sex too that was, urmmm, never documented (lack of cameras, and of course, free hands to record)…

I.                   Burial ceremony (Widows Ritual Sex)

   I know, there is little that is funny about death itself to the self-righteous but if you analyzed the burial customs of most Kenyan tribes, the word bizarre does not even begin to describe the superstitions that went into burying the dead. First, let’s explore a fact, the fact that there might as well be no afterlife, that there is no yonder except that which exists within our minds to convince us that we have more time than we actually do (which will be very disappointing, to anyone who does not die from behind run over by a train in tunnel-the approaching white light theory).

There was this burial ceremony in Mathira where the dead man had left a will that required the family to bury him on a stretcher, plant crops on his grave, slaughter a sheep and sprinkle its blood in the compound.

Among the Luo “a young unmarried woman cannot be buried in her fathers’ homestead. The Luo believe that her unmarried spirit will follow other living girls in the village and make them not to be married also.”

  You probably know that the Luhya have the most extensive burial customs in Kenya. In actual sense, the wakes preceding the burial amount to a celebration which culminates in a great celebration. According to this entry in Wikipedia, the celebrations would sometimes last forty days! I doubt any spirit is going to wait that long for people to get their groove on. If you had money, a tree was uprooted and you were buried there and another planted (Am I the only one who saw ‘tree huggers’ smile, cringe and then smile again?)…a tiny technicality, the tree (Either a Mutoto, Mukhuyu or Mukumu) could only be planted by a ‘righteous lady’, mostly a very old woman (too senile to sin?) or a….wait for it…virgin!

The Maragoli took it to another level since “The body is buried facing north and burial takes place in the afternoon. The grave was dug in front of the house except for the people who had committed suicide, those who died of epilepsy and those who had not given birth.” Again the hating on unmarried women…and now epileptics?

   If you followed the link above, jump to the second sub-topic, widow ritual sex (proving again, that we might think we have it kinky with internet porn but the people of years past had kinky and weird pretty much figured out). Let me allow the author of the article to narrate “a widow would go to the farthest place where she is not known and make friendship with a man she would meet. She will immediately propose to have a sexual act with the man and indeed she will convince his new catch until she makes love with him. She will after the sexual act give the man money which of course she will not tell him it is for cleansing but just to thank him for the service well done.”  THE ORIGINAL SAUSAGE FUNGA!

  So, in simple terms, the widow fungad a guy and did not even have the courtesy to tell him “Thanks for the cleansing”? You think that’s wild? Think again “Bukusu widows who intent to re marry in that in their case a widow will go to the farthest place where she is not known and also find a new catch whom she will convince into making love with but unlike Maragoli people where they perform the act up to the climax, among the Bukusu, the widow would scream just before the real act saying there was someone coming to find them and therefore as a result they will run away with all of them going their own way, never to meet again because meeting again will reverse the cleansing exercise.”

HIM: OMG, the stars are grinning my way today. HER: Cleanse me! Cleanse me! YEEEES! Like that, almost there...

  So yes, if a woman approaches you, turns you on “…up to climax…” and then starts screaming “TUNAKUTIRIWO!”, you’ve been duped into a cleansing ritual. Sadly, the article does not mention whose almost-climax is the signal to scatter because if it was the woman’s then the guy need not worry…

What’s bizarre in your culture?

 

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13 responses to “The 7 Most Bizarre Kenyan Traditions and Rituals

  1. chrisanjui

    February 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Good work, great blog!

     
    • Owaahh

      February 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm

      Thanks man, always a pleasure 😉

       
  2. mmnjug

    February 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Are we so culturally depraved yet claiming to be a modern society?

     
    • Owaahh

      February 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      I don’t think you can really call it that, its just that we refuse to evolve most of the time…

       
  3. Wachu Wanjaria

    February 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Very well researched blog on our Bizarre Rituals and Traditions…….are you an anthropologist? 😉

     
    • Owaahh

      February 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      Hahahaha, no actually, I am just an avid researcher who loves knowledge ;)…but maybe at heart I am an anthropologist, yes?

       
  4. Bernadette Muthoni

    May 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    I like your series on Kenya and its bizarre!very interesting read(s)..makes me wanna gobble up every titbit of Kenyan history,scratch that Kenyan everything.

     
  5. Andrew Muguku (@Atheosapien)

    May 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    You have refreshed my faith in Kenyan authorship. Brilliant and entertaining article.

     
  6. Sam

    November 21, 2013 at 5:40 am

    It is deplorable how they mostly do with treatment of women. And I’m sure some subclan has vagina dentata stories from ghana lol. As a city boy the thing that bothers me about my ‘heritage’ (which I haven’t quite bothered to claim yet) the most isn’t the preliteracy, sartorial paucity, subsistence diet, archaic-tecture, insularity/unfailing unsailing, but the treatment of women. Some of the other shit you can blame on unstable climate, awful soils, invasions, isolation from trade routes etc but things like failing to adopt present technology (remember ghc? Spears n magic water vs guns?) and OUR SICK TREATMENT OF WOMEN….dear god Africa oppresses her daughters, turns them into ignorant baby machines, then abandons the babies to a cruel world with not enough respect to go around. And you know when tradition is being clung to out of zealotry the society is in decay, and the zealots get even more retrogressive. Good news is, my fresh peeps are tuning the geezealots out. If your gash was surgically (ahem) extended, I will only pay extra if you use the bonus to fix it up as best as MODERN medicine can do. That shit aint sexy! Honestly we need to import more feminsits.

     

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